Greatest Drives Latest

  • Around the Coast in 8 Days
    Amazing coast drive using only A & B roads and keeping the sea in view wherever possible all in the target of 8 days. We did this nutty trip to raise funds for the Motor Neurone Association of Great Britain and raised the sum of £4000+...
    by SeanM at April 13th, 2013 at 2:35pm
  • Northumberland National Park
    We drove this route on the way back from Edinburgh en route to York. Northumberland is a relatively hilly national park but this is why the A68 is so much fun. A short while after Jedburgh to the north you cross the summit of a mountain range where the Sc...
    by electrobooks at April 6th, 2013 at 9:12pm
  • Dartmoor National Park
    The B3357/B3212 between Tavistock and Moretonhampstead is a cracking little blast over Dartmoor encompassing some great views, fast sweeping bends over some serious elevation change and an abundance of sheep all in one handy package. This makes for a fas...
    by SilverArrows at January 4th, 2013 at 12:09pm

Car News Latest

  • The high-tech world of radio-controlled car racing Saturday 24th February 2018
    Remote control cars
    The lovingly polished 50mph, 1:12 racers take to the carpet
    Radio-controlled cars are more than just toys: they’re complicated bits of kit that offer racers a valuable grounding in engineering

    The venue for the second leg of the six-round, radio-controlled 1:12 scale LMP12 British Championship season is the gym hall at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy, near Newcastle.

    Hospitality is a broken vending machine and Bernie Ecclestone is a slightly younger chap called Peter Winton with less hair but all of it his own.

    I can’t laugh, though, because many of the road cars I’ve just parked my old nail among on arrival are serious pieces of kit, including a 65-reg BMW X5 M50d, a 17-reg Golf R and a 67-reg Mercedes-AMG C63. Unlike me, these guys aren’t here on a tight budget.

    What they are here for is to race. That much is clear in the ‘garage’ (the Academy’s games hall), where around 70 blokes (there are only one or two female racers) of all ages, but most of them in their thirties, occupy rows of tables piled high with voltmeters, soldering guns, electric screwdrivers, pliers, rolls of insulation tape, brightly coloured plastic car bodies and half-finished cans of Fanta.

    One chap is lovingly wiping his car’s plastic body with a bright yellow duster. Another is testing his car’s electrical connections with fierce concentration. In the corner, a group of grown men are expertly turning small tyres on three miniature lathes, grinding down the rubber to reduce its thickness so the small electric racing cars slide more easily.

    Lewis Hamilton cut his teeth in radio-controlled car racing after his father, Anthony, gave him one when he was six years old. Hamilton came second in the BRCA national championship the following year.

    Surprisingly, the multi-millionaire Formula 1 champion has better things to do today than cheer on his erstwhile rivals. No matter, there’s ample compensation in no less a figure than 14-time European and five-time World LMP champion, Dave Spashett. He’s been racing for 36 years – almost since the LMP class, one of the oldest RC racing classes in existence, started in 1976, in fact. He cuts a modest figure.

    “There’s no secret to winning,” Spashett says as he makes last-minute adjustments to the upturned racer in the palm of his hand. “It’s about making the most of the car you have and constantly adapting your style to the way it behaves on the track.”

    This level of remote control might sound far-fetched but the cars Spashett and his fellow RC enthusiasts are racing today are the most advanced electric models on the planet. Features include regenerative braking, a programmable EV motor whose frequency and timing can be varied across the rev range, heat sinks on the speed controller (effectively the ECU) and the motor to keep race temperatures down to 70deg C, and multi-adjustable suspension. They’re powered by lithium ion polymer batteries, such as you find in mobile phones and laptops. Just one is powerful enough to start a radio-controlled car.

    Many of the top EV engineers in the automotive industry served their apprenticeship designing advanced powertrains for RC racers. It’s been a brain drain for the sport, with one famous California-based supplier losing so many of its engineers to Tesla that it had to shut up shop.

    One racer here today whose day job must surely benefit from his passion for the sport is Mark Stiles. The multiple BRCA race winner is a mechanical design engineer at the Renault Sport F1 team, although by the time you read this he’ll have swapped overalls for Mercedes F1, home of his former race rival, the aforementioned Lewis Hamilton.

    “We’re about the same age and from the same area,” says Stiles. “I raced him a few times and even beat him on one occasion, but you could see his focus and he always held his nerve no matter what.”

    Stiles’ passion for the sport began at school when he joined the radio- controlled car club. That fuelled an interest in automotive engineering that eventually led him to Oxford Brookes University, a degree in mechanical engineering and, since 2009, a career in F1.

    “Just like Formula 1, LMP12 is a very precise and technical class,” he says. “You’ve all the complexity of the powertrain but also of the suspension system.

    “The rear is a live axle with roll and bump adjustment, and a ball diff that allows you to adjust the level of thrust load for different levels of grip. The front is an independent sliding kingpin system with full adjustability of wheel angles.”

    And just like F1, tyre selection and preparation are crucial. It’s quite warm today, which will help soften the tyres. Before each race, competitors can be seen applying an approved chemical to the rubber to accelerate the process.

    However, unlike F1, no one circuit is ever the same, meaning those who raced at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy last year can’t claim an advantage this season.

    That said, the surface itself (a non- bobbling needle-punch material) is fairly standard, leading Stiles to say about the next race in Tamworth: “I went there last year, so I know the carpet really well...”

    Anyway, it’s time I had a go, but first my car must pass scrutineering. Maximum permitted battery voltage is 4.209V, maximum weight is 730g and ride height must be no lower than 3mm. I’m good to go.

    The track is around two metres wide and has 11 corners. The quickest racers are lapping in around 11 seconds, so one corner every second. I join my five fellow ‘drivers’ on a couple of stacked benches affording a bird’s-eye view of the track. I grasp the controller in both hands: left toggle, power; right toggle, direction.

    The race director counts down and we’re off, me into the barrier but the rest of the pack clear into the distance. I reckon by the time a helpful steward has air-lifted my stricken racing car back into position, I’ve been lapped by the others at least once. This goes on until humiliation forces my retirement.

    It’s tricky, this RC racing thing. Keeping your thumbs on the toggles at all times and knowing your left from right (not easy since you have to constantly reorientate depending on whether the car is heading from or towards you) are key. But I can see its appeal and as the club tells me (and as Stiles proves), for a youngster keen on cars and engineering there’s the seed of a successful career here.

    There are 10,000 active racers and 220 clubs in the UK alone. While venues like the Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy continue to hum to the sound of 50mph remote- controlled racers, the future of Britain’s automotive industry is in safe hands.

    John Evans

    Read more 

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    Nissan GT-R/C tested: we drive remote control supercar

    Mercedes-AMG C 63 review

  • Skoda Karoq: a race against time from John O’Groats to Land’s End Saturday 24th February 2018
    Skoda Karoq
    We set off at the exact moment the sun set at John O’Groats on 1 February: 4:34pm
    Leaving John O’Groats at sunset and reaching Land’s End before sunrise seemed simple, but we hadn’t reckoned on roadworks, snow and gales

    There is no better demonstration of the British love for an eccentric challenge than the well-trodden route between Land’s End and John O’Groats.

    The journey between what are almost the two farthest-flung points of the British mainland serves to illustrate both the nation’s long, skinny shape – 837 miles in a country where it’s impossible to be more than 70 miles from the sea – and also our collective love of a bizarre quest.

    The first recorded walking of the whole distance took place in 1871 and, since then, it has been done on everything from bikes to skateboards to lawnmowers to at least one traverse by JCB. In an outright win for toughness, the route has even been swum, adventurer Sean Conway spending 135 days covering the 900 mile route around the coast in 2013.

    Skoda Tarraco leaked images show seven-seater design

    Driving is definitely the easy way, but although there have been some blisteringly quick private runs, the inability to close roads or evade prosecution means there are no official records in excess of the official speed limits.

    Our mission is subtly different and grander in ambition: to race the sun rather than the clock. The aim is to show that the journey can still be a proper adventure without getting arrested, and even in a vehicle as unlikely as the new Skoda Karoq. A mid-sized diesel-powered crossover might not seem like the most obvious choice for a rapid end-to-end run, but this is a journey where comfort and fuel range are far more important than outright pace. It’s also the perfect opportunity to introduce what’s likely to become one of Skoda’s biggest sellers to the UK.

    The plan is to leave John O’Groats as the sun sets and reach Land’s End before first light the next day, a north-to-south run giving us fractionally more night. Attempting it in mid- December would have been too easy, but choosing the night of 1-2 February gives an almost perfectly balanced challenge, with 14 hours and 44 minutes of night for a journey that, Google reckons, will take 14 hours and 56 minutes with no traffic delays.

    AN INAUSPICIOUS BEGINNING:

    Time isn’t the only challenge. The weather is determined to have a say, too. Snow is falling as I drive the Karoq north to meet snapper Stan Papior at Inverness airport, and by the time we reach the Seaview Hotel at John O’Groats, the TV forecasters are standing next to maps covered in huge arrows and warning of an approaching Arctic front. The wind is already topping the gale scale, blowing hard enough to make it hard to stand upright.

    Things have changed since I was last here, in 2007. Back then, I did the same trip in my long-term test car at the time, a Citroën C6, to demonstrate its journey-shrinking abilities, and John O’Groats’ ‘end of the world’ vibe felt as much post-apocalyptic as geographic, the village’s eponymous hotel shuttered and seemingly at risk of collapse.

    Now it’s restored and surrounded by luxury chalets, the cafés and gift shops doing a respectable trade even on a bleak Thursday. The increasing popularity of the North Coast 500 has brought many more travellers during the summer – and a fair crop of supercars, to judge from the pictures in some of the businesses. There’s even a Starbucks franchise, where we kill a couple of hours waiting for the sun to set and watching the wind whip the North Sea.

    Sunset is an anti-climax, with no discernible difference in the gloomy greyness as 4:34pm rolls around and – somewhere far behind the clouds – the sun dips below the horizon. The sat-nav reckons there are 839 miles ahead of us and the Karoq’s trip computer claims a 500-mile fuel range. As we set off, it starts to rain almost horizontally.

    The drive to Inverness is more of a trundle than a sprint, the A9 following the rugged shape and swoopy contours of the coastline for the first hour or so. It’s spectacular, and twilight offers some good views of cliffs and moorland, but it’s definitely not fast. Skoda has wisely chosen to fit our Karoq with Bridgestone Turanza winter tyres, which are quick to indicate their lack of enthusiasm for higher speedson the twistier sections.

    It’s cold and slippery out there and a nearly new Ford Transit, embedded in a fence, serves as a salutary lesson about the treacherous conditions.

    After twilight, the arrival of darkness reduces distractions, with the most noticeable being the sight of oil rigs far out to sea, brilliantly illuminated and with flare stacks blazing orange. Things are picking up in the North Sea to judge from the number of them, both at work and towering over the small town of Invergordon, where they come for repair and refurbishment.

    Although the Karoq isn’t mad on corners, it’s pretty good at straights, and capable of the sort of rapid but sensible pace necessary to keep on schedule in conditions like these. The long journey north to our official starting point has already proved it to be a fine long-legged cruiser, and although the 147bhp version of the familiar 2.0-litre TDI diesel doesn’t deliver scintillating thrust, it does have the doughty low-down torque that makes for relaxed progress. The manual gearbox is good, too, with a pleasingly precise shift action. The Volkswagen Group’s ability to stir its MQB porridge pot into different flavours continues to impress, the Skoda’s dynamic demeanour feeling bigger and more grown-up than its mechanically near-identical VW T-Roc and Seat Ateca cousins.

    Travelling by night was meant to cut down on traffic but we encounter a five-minute queue for roadworks hat have reduced the bridge over the Cromarty Firth to a single lane.

    Progress stays slow and sticky until e pass Inverness, just a couple of minutes adrift of our bogey time, but ith the rain turning to snow.

    At first, the flurries of flakes barely other the Karoq’s wipers and the oad stays reassuringly black. But as the A9 begins its steady climb owards Slochd summit, the fall gets eavier and starts to stick. Even withthe Karoq’s four-wheel drive and winter tyres, the occasional stretches of passing lane are soon too white for prudent use and it’s not long before e’re grinding up the grade in a long line of cars and lorries, following distant gritting truck and with he speedo needle pointing at just 5mph. The sat-nav’s ETA starts to lip backwards, soon beyond the :19am at which first light is due to rrive in the far west of Cornwall.

    Not that Highlanders let a little eather stop them. The snow stops falling before we reach Aviemore, and although there’s a decent amount n the ground, the well-gritted road is soon clear again. My instinct iso try to claw back some of the lost ime, but it needs to be fought hard:the entire length of the A9 is now policed by average-speed cameras, past Perth and all the way to the M9. For the next couple of hours, speed management means little more than knocking the cruise control up and down to take account of the different limits. This, I reckon, is the future.

    Joining the motorway network just south of Dunblane feels like liberation with the promise that it will carry us the 450 miles to Exeter. But the Google Maps navigation, which is running as back-up, now causes alarm, reckoning we’ll reach Land’s End one hour later than the time predicted by the Karoq’s own system. Zooming out reveals no obvious red patches: does it know something we don’t?

    Crossing the English border just six hours after setting off means we’re ahead of schedule again, and with enough margin to switch to a two-stop strategy. The original plan had been to stop once, but a splash and dash at Southwaite also offers the prospect of a stretch and a fresh coffee. The services deliver on the walk and visit to the gents, but not the much needed Americano, with the Costa franchise closed for stocktaking. Energy drinks will have to do.

    Midnight arrives just before Preston does and the radio news reports that we’ve officially entered Groundhog Day. It certainly feels that way, the motorway schlep sharing much of the déjà vu of the Bill Murray comedy. Place names change and the mileage on signs counts downwards but, for the most part, the M6 might as well be the repeating background in an old-fashioned cartoon. Another problem with choosing February is soon evident: the numerous sets of roadworks that have sprung up as, I presume, budgets are spent before the end of the financial year. There are five temporary worksites between Preston and Birmingham, most of which reduce the motorway to a single lane, plus a grindingly long stretch of camera-enforced 50mph zone.

    Brum brings some modest excitement, and confirmation of Google’s omnipotence in spotting a snarl-up: the first bit of the M5 is closed, as is the obvious diversion along the M6, two facts the normally shouty motorway matrix signs remain silent about until we’re practically in the queue. We turn to Waze navigation, which reroutes us on an anthropologically interesting tour of West Bromwich, where many people are still heading home. By the time we rejoin the M5 a couple of junctions down, all available navigation systems now agree we’ll reach Land’s End well before 7am.

    As traffic levels drop and smart motorway gives way to old-fashioned dumb motorway, so cruising speeds rise. There’s a fair amount of road roar in the Karoq’s cabin at higher velocities, although it’s nothing the audio system can’t make itself heard over. When we get bored of podcasts, discussion turns to speculation on what would be the fastest way to complete the journey we’re on, with closed roads and a free choice of car. I reckon a Bentley Continental GT could do the one-way trip in less than seven hours with enough refuelling tankers and a brave driver.

    We make our second fuel stop at Taunton and - mercifully - find that the Costa is open and serving, even at 2:30am. By the time we turn onto the A30 at Exeter, there’s a sense of entering the home stretch, and as the road gets steeper and twistier, the Karoq even gets to experience some steering input again. We’ve entered the truck zone, with many more lorries than cars lumbering west. For the most part, they keep outof our way. The Skoda’s seats deserve particular praise as the clock ticks past 12 hours. There are aches but vastly fewer than there would be sitting in most other cars.

    The last stretch is like the first: frustratingly slow. Dual carriageway runs out at Camborne and the final leg from Penzance to Sennen is positively twisty. We arrive at Land’s End to a complete absence of cheering crowds and with more than an hour to spare – long enough for a snooze in the corner of the car park before the sky starts to lighten. Like John O’ Groats, it feels like a place that’s accidentally famous for no especially good reason, with spectacular sea views but shuttered retailers dedicated to lightening tourist pockets. Everything is closed, not just until later in the morning but rather until spring arrives. The sun’s light has covered 24,000 miles in the time it has taken us to do 900, but it feels like a victory.

    WAITING FOR THE SUN:

    We set off at the exact moment the sun set at John O’Groats on 1 February: 4:34pm, with first light due to hit Land’s End at 7:19am the following day. Despite the roadworks, we made it with an hour to spare.

    THERE AND BACK IN A DAY:

    Although I wouldn’t claim to be a LEJOG veteran, this is the fourth time I’ve made the trip, but the first run north to south. The Citroën C6 journey in 2007 was run to a far gentler pace over three days. But my first outing, in 1997, was much more frantic. My friend John Dalton wanted to see if it was possible to compress the trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats and then back again into the space of one calendar day using his trusty MG Maestro. I rode along as company, ballast and witness.

    We left Land’s End at the stroke of midnight and made such good time on our journey north that we reached John O’Groats by late morning, the rapidity of our progress helped by the absence of speed cameras and the Maestro’s anonymity. The return journey was more fraught. Heavy traffic around Birmingham seemed to blow our chances but Dalton’s rally- honed skills were sufficient to get us back to Land’s End at 11:47pm on the same day. The Maestro, which had already covered well over 100,000 miles, didn’t miss a beat.

    Read more 

    Skoda Karoq review 

    Skoda Octavia review 

    Skoda Yeti review 

  • Audi RS4 Avant Friday 23rd February 2018
    Audi RS4 Avant Rapid, sure-footed, practical, comfortable, classy: can the new RS4 Avant really be all these things? Rabidly quick estate cars seem to stoke the imagination of us enthusiasts in a manner few other vehicle types can. There’s something wonderfully improbable about genuine usability combined with performance that, out in the real world, would often do for more purpose-built machinery. Not many of us actually buy quick estate cars, of course, and in that sense, they’re a bit like supercars. This is truer of the RS4 Avant than most. In fact, in the realm of online publishing, it’s not unusual for Audi’s mid-sized hammer-wagon to garner a similar level of attention to that you’d expect of, say, a new McLaren. Audi’s formula has history on its side too. It began with the RS2 of 1994 – developed with Porsche, fantastically quick and, for its time, fabulous to drive – and led to the curvaceous form of the V6-engined B5-generation RS4 of the millennium. Quattro GmbH – now known as Audi Sport – then gave us the B7 version, which graduated to naturally aspirated V8 power and boasted a chassis of such finesse that you’d think it would be wasted on an estate car – except it wasn’t.The most recent RS4 was also the most conservative in its styling and a little way from regurgitating the dynamic prowess of its forebear but was still a well-conceived machine. All of which nicely sets the scene for this new one.Aggressive, isn’t it? By the numbers, the B9-generation RS4 is also a mighty thing. Fuel economy is improved by a fifth and CO2 emissions have fallen by a quarter. Shaving 80kg from the kerb weight (the first time a new RS4 has trimmed down) has also helped to take more than half a second from the 0-60mph time, and the twin-turbo V6 delivers almost half as much torque again as the engine it replaces.With 275-section tyres at each corner, this new car puts down a vast amount of rubber and yet rolling refinement will need to have improved. Being an RS4, its aesthetics are also tasked with generating a buzz befitting of a £60,000 car and yet mustn’t attract the wrong kind of attention. So can it possibly fulfil all of these tasks and still reward the person behind the wheel when the moment arises?

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